Both houses of Congress decided to extend a cap on student loans Friday, but Congressman Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit) said the move is little more than a band-aid — one that doesn’t change anything for Americans dealing with debilitating student debt. The measure, which passed as part of a larger transportation bill, fixes federally subsidized student loans interest rates at 3.4 percent for another year. The legislation had strong bipartisan support, with the House voting 373 to 52 and the Senate voting 74 to 19 in favor of the bill, according to CNN. President Obama is widely expected to sign the legislation. The law’s passage will protect students from a scheduled increase that would have doubled their interest rates on July 1. Rep. Clarke, who is currently lobbying for a Student Loan Forgiveness Act, told The Huffington Post that while he was glad Congress had passed the cap, he felt what is really needed is to cut the debt and to reduce payments on principals. Clarke’s bill, H.R. 4170, would forgive debt for individuals who have paid 10 percent of their discretionary income toward their loans for 10 years. For those who go into teaching, public service or practice medicine in areas lacking service, the time limit would be cut to five years. The bill would also cap interest on all federal student loans. “Political people are calling this a victory, not the people who pay the student loans,” Clarke said. “If someone didn’t have to pay these loans they could get a home, get married, start a business. One reason why the growth of jobs have been sluggish in our economy is that people are in debt.” Student loan debt in the United States now tops a trillion dollars. Clarke believes public support for his debt relief proposals encouraged the White House to take administrative action last year to lower payments for low-income borrowers and motivated Congress to extend the cap, but he argues that’s not enough to make a difference. “This vote today shows that Congress, themselves, they’re not the ones who are going to change the system,” Clark said. He said he has signatures from a million people backing his legislation, and notes that there is growing national movement around the issue student debt relief that’s been boosted by the Occupy Movement. According to Clarke, it’s only through this sort of popular mobilization that his bill has any chance of getting passed. “The powers in their hands. They can get Congress to start working for them,” he said.
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